Raja Lear

Bhuthiadia, Sharad 1993

Raja Lear, a 1993 Marathi-language adaptation of King Lear. Directed by Sharad Bhuthiadia from a translation by Vinda Karandikar. A faithful translation, this production was performed in a manner ‘faithful’ to the tradition of realist staging of Shakespeare. This has been the most common staging practice for Shakespeare in India. Read More

Opening sequence: A self absorbed Lear

Sennet. Enter King Lear, Cornwall, Albany,
Goneril, Regan, Cordelia and Attendants. (1.i.)

The play opened with Gloucester and Kent in conversation followed by the entry of the daughters with their consorts and then Lear with his fool. What is noticeable is the immediate establishment of the Western ambience with quasi-Elizabethan costumes and Western music. Lear’s entry, though heralded by a fanfare, is of the self-absorbed monarch, who enters laughing form the side wing, not from the central ‘official’ door down stage from where the rest of the court enters. He has his arm around his Fool and is deep in conversation. He then strides up to his chair on the podium, releasing the Fool with a fond pat, but barely acknowledging those waiting for him. Bhuthadia’s staging saw this play as an individual tragedy, of an egocentric patriarch whose daughters fail to manage him. A comparison with the opening scenes of Samrat Lear 1 and Iruthiattam 4 will show the differences in the interpretation of the character and fare of Lear.

This universalizing stream of Shakespeare performance does not need spectacular stage effects. Its bare stage with minimal props could be any place and every place. The mood of the performance was thoughtful, with muted colors that blended well.

Lear to his daughters

Lear: Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom; and ’tis out fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age
Conferring them on younger strenghts; while we
Unburden’d crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now. (1.i.37 – 44)

The division of the kingdom begins as genial gift giving with the patriarch expecting some ritual flattery in return.

Flattering Goneril

Gon: Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter;
Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er lov’d, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you. (1.i.54 – 61)

Goneril obliges, observes form, and bows. She is pleased with her gift as reward, and exchanges glances with Albany.

Cunning Regan

Reg: I am made of the self same metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short; that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love. (1.i.69 – 76)

Lear: To thee and thine, hereditary ever,
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom. (1.i.79 – 80)

Regan is more artful, makes larger hand gestures, bows, and is more than pleased with her reward, barely able to conceal her excitement in turning towards Cornwall.

Cordelia’s dilemma

Cor: Nothing, my lord. (1.i.87)

Cordelia, who had been standing at home distance, is positioned as different from the other two. Her “nothing” emerges out of an inner perplexity , a division between her duty to her own truth and that to her father. This Cordelia was the sweet, shy, sensible daughter, devoted to the father but unable to dissimulate like her sisters. There is a long stunned pause before her second “nothing.”

Lear perplexed

Lear: Nothing will come of nothing; speak again. (1.i.90)

Lear, who had invited her speak in the first instance with a marked fondness in his tone, is now taken by surprise; he strides down to her, to ask her, still mildly, to speak again. This Lear in contrast to Samrat Lear and Iruthiattam is more self-absorbed than egotistical; it is not his vanity but an inner being that is hurt. He is the most believable of the three.

Cordelia’s plain speaking

Cor: Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, lov’d me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you and most honour you.
Why have my sister’s husbands, if they say
They love you all? Happily, when I shall web
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty;
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters
To love my father all. (1.i.95 – 104)

Cordelia’s statement of her views, spoken out to the audience. Notice her poise and confidence and also her frown at her reference to her sisters’ professions of love. Contrast the more emotional Cordelia in Samrat Lear and the more controlled and determined one in Iruthiattam.

Ready to strike Kent

Lear: O, vassal! Miscreant! (1.i.161)

Challenged again, the monstrous ego of the monarch is ready to strike at Kent.

France’s proposal to Cordelia

France: Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor;
Most choice, forsaken; and move lov’d, despis’d!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon;
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.
Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect
My love should kindle to inflam’d respect. (1.i.250 – 255)

France takes up “what’s cast away” proposing in the classic western style by going down on his knees. For an indigenised version see Samrat Lear 9.

Edmund’s soliloquy

Edm: Thou Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base? (1.ii.1 – 6)

The Subplot: Edmund discovered lying down, contemplating his fate; an angst-ridden villain who is aroused to question his fate, “Why bastard?”

Kent in disguise

Kent: Now, banish’d Kent,
If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn’d,
So may it come, thy master, whom thou lov’st,
Shall find thee full of labours. (1.iv.4 – 7)

Kent in disguise, asserting his loyalty in a moment of spotlit introspection: “If thou canst server where thou dost stand condemn’d

Lear takes umbrage at Oswald

Lear: Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal? [Striking him.] Osw: I’ll not be stricken, my Lord.
Kent: Nor tripp’d neither, you base foot-ball player.
[Tripping up his heels.]

Taking umbrage at his “faint neglect,” Lear ready to strike Oswald. Kent too adds his bit.

The witty Fool

Fool: there, take my coxcomb. Why, this
fellow has banish’d two on’s
daughters, and did the third a blessing
against his will: if thou follow him thou
must needs wear my coxcomb. How
now, Nuncle! Would I had two
coxcombs and two daughters!
Lear: Why, my boy?
Fool: If I gave them all my living, I’d
keep my coxcombs myself. There’s
mine; beg another of thy daughters.
Lear: Take heed, sirrah; the whip. (1.iv.106 – 116)

The Fool was played as an archetypal courtly fool, but with the face painted as a white mask. He emerged in this production as both critic and sympathizer. Here the witty fool would gift his coxcomb, the symbol of the jester, to Kent and Lear who have already given away their wits. Note Lear’s initial indulgence towards him when he somewhat playfully reminds him of the whip. The word “boy” used by Lear for the Fool was translated as beta = son emphasizing the patriarch’s fondness for him.

The wise and bitter Fool

Fool: I have used it, Nuncle, e’er since thou
mad’st thy daughters thy mothers; for whenz
thou gave’st them the rod and putt’st down
thine own breeches, Then they for sudden
joy did weep, And I for sorrow sung, That
such a king should play bo-peep, And go
the fools among. (1.iv.179 – 185)

The Fool’s song becomes a bitter pill chastising the King for his folly. Lear looks more serious now.

Lear’s curse

Lear: Hear, nature, hear! Dear Goddess, hear!
Suspend they purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful!
Intro her womb convey sterility!
Dry up in her the organs of increase,
And from derogate body never spring
A babe to honour her! (1.iv.284 – 290)

The first sign of the unhinging of Lear’s mind by the extremity of his passion send in the curse of barrenness he wishes upon his own daughter, Goneril. The back lit figure of Lear, with other characters in darkness, emphasizes his isolation and shows the vehemence and the curse arising out of personal rejection and hurt. In Samrat Lear, the curse is irrational and avenging.

Artful Regan

Reg: O, Sir! You are old;
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine: you should be ruled and led
By some discretion that discards your state
Better than you yourself. Therefore I pray you
That to our sister you do make return; (II.iv.147 – 153)

Regan firmly, and with seeming reasonableness makes it clear that she will none of her father’s whims now.

The sisters’s solidarity

Lear: O Regan! Will you take her by the hand?
Gon: Why not by th’hand, sir? How have I offended
All’s not offence that indiscretion finds
And dotage terms so. (II.iv.196 – 199)

The two sisters togethe embolden themselves to form a joint front against their father.

Regan pushes her luck

Reg: What need one? (II.iv.265)

Regan pushes her luck, moving from “What should you need of more?”

Ultimate betrayal

Lear: No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both
That all the world shall — I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep;
No, I’ll not weep:
I have full cause of weeping, [Storm heard at a distance] but this heart
Shall break into a hundred though flaws
Or ere I’ll weep. O Fool! I shall go mad. (II.iv.280 – 290)

The ultimate betrayal: Lear tries to reason with himself but ends cursing his unkind daughters and on the edge of madness.

Lear’s storm of rage

Lear: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world!
Crack Nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That makes ingrateful man! (III.ii.1 – 9)

The storm in nature is an emblem of the storm in Lear’s soul. The staging of the storm in ‘universalized Shakespeares’ is a symbolic realism, with just enough sound and light effects that stop short of a naturalistic spectacular impact. The fury of nature was signaled without recreating it. This focused attention on the convulsion overtaking Lear. In this production it as Lear’s singular alienation, which was given prominence and helped by the excision of the opening choric scene between Kent and a Gentleman.

Remembers the Fool

Lear: My wits begin to turn.
Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange,
And can make vile things precious. Come your hovel.
Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart
That’s sorry yet for thee.
Fool: He that has and a little tiny wit,
With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make a content with his fortunes fit,
Though the rain it raineth every day, (III.ii.67 – 77)

The buffeting by the storm clarifies and makes him see beyond himself and remember his Fool. This is juxtaposed with the Fool’s ironic message that one must make do with what one has, as Lear will now have to do.

Lear’s self-realization

Lear: Poor nakes wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From season such as these? O! I have ta’en
Too little care of this. Take physic, Pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shakes the superflux to them,
And show the Heavens more just. (III.iv.28 – 36)

Lear’s ‘stormy education’ continues with a concretization of his realization that he has been too self absorbed in his kingship: “Poor nakes wretches

Regan plucks Gloucester’s beard

[Regan plucks his beard].
Glou: By the kind Gods, ’tis most ignobly done
To pluck me by the beard.
Regan: So white, and such a traitor! (III.vii.35 – 37)

The blinding of Gloucester, in a realistic manner: Regan pulls at his beard in a rage but smiles to find some hair in her hand, and then flicks it off in disgust. It shows her growing sadism and arrogance.

Blinding of Gloucester

Cornwall: See ‘t shalt thou never. Fellows hold the chair.
Upon these eyes of thing I’ll set my foot. (III.vii.66 – 67)

The blinding, realistic but not sensational. Cornwall’s back deflects the audience’s direct gaze. He uses his heels, not messing his hands, for this deed.

Monstrous Regan

Regan: Give me thy sword. A peasant stand up thus!
[Takes a sword and runs at him behind] (III.vii.79)

The production emphasized women’s lust for power and consequent emboldenment. Regan stabs the guard who revolts not once by twice, and then in departure from the text, herself injures Gloucester’s second eye.

Gloucester in darkness

Cornwall: Lest it see more, prevent it. Out vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now? (III.vi.80 – 81)

Darkness, symbolic not just of what has been done to Gloucester, but of the pervasive blindness, floods the stage.

Gloucester begs Poor Tom to take him to Dover

Edgar: Bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed?
Gloucester: Know’st thou the way to Dover?
Edgar: Both stile and gate, horse-way and
foot-path. Poor Tom hat been scar’d out of
his good wits: bless thee, good man’s son,
from the foul fiend! Five fiends have been in
Poor Tim at once; … So, bless thee master!
Glos: Here, take this purse, thou who the heav’ns’ plagues
Have humbled to all strokes: that I am wretched
Makes thee the happier: Heavens, deal so still! (IV.i.53 – 66)

The cruelty and pathos intensifies: blind Gloucester stumbles upon his runaway son Edgar. Like Lear blinded with anger, he too achieves insight being literally blinded. “Blessed thy sweet eyes, they bleed.”

Goneril is attracted to Edmund

Goneril: Back, Edmund, to my brother;
Hasten his musters and conduct his powers:
I must change arms at home, and give the distaff
Into my husband’s hands. This trusty servant
Shall pass between us: ere long you are like to hear,
If you dare venture in your own behalf,
A mistress’s command. Wear this; spare speech; [Giving a favour] Decline your head: this kiss, if it durst speak,
Would stretch thy spirits up into the aire.
Conceive, and fare thee well.
Edm: Yours in the ranks of death.
Gon: My most dear Gloucester! [Exit Edmund] Oh! The difference of man and man.
To thee a woman’s services are due:
My fool usurps my body. (IV.ii.15 – 28)

Goneril’s ‘power-play.’ She gives a token to Edmund who responds to it kneeling down in a gesture from western chivalry.

Goneril’s increasing power lust

Gon: [Aside] One way I like this well;
But being widow, and my Gloucester with her,
May all the building in my fancy pluck
Upon my hateful like: another way,
The news is not so tart. (IV.ii.83 – 87)

Goneril’s soliloquy reveals her growing power lust: the news of Cornwall’s death brings no sense of grief for the bereaved sister but a quiet relish. Things may turn to her advantage. Note the front spotlight effect, same as in her brief soliloquy after giving Edmund the token, establishing a continuity of thought through stage effect.

Gloucester’s suicide

Glou: Now, fellow, fare thee well.
Edgar: Gone, sir: farewell.
[He throws himself forward and fall] (IV.vi.41)

Gloucester’s suicide where the ludicrous flop is redeemed only by the pathos of the situation. Direct and effective staging without frills or stage business.

Mad Lear

Lear: Look, look a mouse. Peace, peace!
This pieve of toasted cheese will do’t.
There’s my gauntlet; i’ll prove it on a giant.
Bring up the brown bills. O! well flown bird; i’
th’ clout, i’ th’ clout: hewgh! Give the word. (IV.vi.89 – 93)

Lear’s mad state “crown’d with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds

Both clarity and passion in madness

Lear: Let copulation thrive: for Gloucester’s bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got ‘tween the lawful sheets. To’t, Luxury, pell-mell!
For I lack soldiers. Behold yond simp’ring dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow;
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure’s name;
The fitchew now the soiled horse goes to’t
With a more riotous appetite.
Down from the waist they are all Centaurs,
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the god’s inherit,
Beneath is all the fiend’s: there’s hell, there’s darkness,
There is the sulphurous pit-burning, scalding,
Stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet, good
apothecary, To sweeten my imagination. (IV.vi.117 – 133)

Yet there is reason in his madness; he hits out at his tormentors, the legitimately begot daughters: “Let copulation thrive

Reason in madness

Lear: There thou might’st behold
The great image of Authority:
A dog’s obeyed in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back:
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her. The usurper hangs the cozener.
Thorough tatter’d clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr’d gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtles breaks;
Arm it in rages, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none, I say none; I’ll able ’em:
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power
To seal th’ accuser’s lips. (IV.vi.161 – 174)

There is insight in the madness too: “Handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?

Self-realization through madness

Lear: When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. This’ a a good block.
It were a delicate stratagem to shoe
A troop of horse with felt. I’ll put’t in proof,
And when I have stol’n upone these sons-in-law,
Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill! (IV.vi.184 – 189)

His self-realization born of madness: “When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools.”

Cordelia “redeems nature”

Cor: And wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn,
In short and musty straw? Alack, alack!
‘Tis wonder that thy life and wits at once
Had not concluded all. He wakes. Speak to him.
Doct: Madam, do you; ’tis fittest.
Cor: How does my royal Lord? How fares your Majesty?
Lear: You do me wrong to take out o’ th’ grave.
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead. (IV.vii.38 – 48)

At last Cordelia’s care; she keeps vigil over her father, but as he wakes, she moves to respectful distance from his bed. Notice the contra jure lighting giving intimate, spotlight atmosphere, suggestive of the grouping in Renaissance painting.

Lear is reborn

Cor: O, look upon me, Sir,
And hold your hands in benediction o’er me.
No, sir, you must not kneel.
Lear: Pray, do not mock me.
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful; for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I didn lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
Cor: And so I am! I am! (IV.vi..57 – 70)

Lear is reborn, a new man. There is the humbling of the egotistical parent: instead of blessing Cordelia, as she wants, Lear kneels in embarrassment. There is confusion and slow recognition of himself and others.

Edmund the Machiavel

Edm: To both these sisters have I sworn my love;
Each jealous of the other, as the stung
Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take?
Both? One? Or neither? Neither can be enjoy’d,
If both remain alive: to take the widow
Exasperates, makes made her sister Goneril;
And hardly shall I carry out my side,
Her husband being alive. Now then, we’ll use
His countenance for the battle, which being done,
Let her who would be rid of him devise
His speedy taking off. As for the mercy
Which he intends to Lear and to Cordelia-
The battle done, and they within our power,
Shall never see his pardon; for my state
Stands on me to defend, not to debate. (V.i.55 – 69)

Edmund, the machiavel, is recounting his deeds: “To both sisters have I sworn my love

Lear welcomes his fate (imprisonment)

Lear: No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too-
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out-
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.
Edm: Take them away.
Lear: Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The Gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?
He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven
And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes.
The good years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
Ere they shall make us weep! We’ll see ’em starv’d first.
Com. [Exeunt Lear and Cordelia, guarded]. (V.iii.8 – 26)

Lear and Cordelia. The King and patriarch refuses to see his other daughters to beg for his freedom and welcomes prison where they two will “sing like birds i’ th’ cage

Lear with Cordelia in his arms

Re-enter Lear, with Cordelia dead in his arms; Officer.
Lear: Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever.
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives. (V.iii.257 – 263)

Lear with the dead Cordelia in his arms comes in howling, puts her down front stage. He cannot believe that she is dead.

Lear imagines Cordelia speaks

Lear: A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have sav’d her; now she’s gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little. Ha!
What is’t thou say’st, Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.
I kill’d the slave that was a-hanging thee. (V.iii.269 – 274)

Lear is so disconsolate with grief, that he does not recognized Kent, instead almost rebukes him, as he tries to console him. He imagines he sees Cordelia’s lips move and tries to catch her voice.

Lear’s final soliloquy

Lear: And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button. Thank you, Sir.
Do you see this? Look on her! her lips!
Look there, look there! [Dies] (V.iii.305 – 311)

Lear tries to rouse Cordelia, but realizes she is gone – picks up her hand which falls dead flat. But in his final breath again sees some signs of life in her: Look on her, look, her lips,

Edgar’s epitaph

Edg: The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
[Exeunt, with a dead march]. (V.iii.323 – 326)

The contrasted lighting gave the end the effect of a tableau, signaling an iconic emblematisation of a pieta-like suffering (but with the genders reversed). The last lines given by Edgar, not Albany, spoken out to the audience formed an epitaph, a tribute to the story “the oldest hath borne most” … The production remained consistent in its use of a universalized western mise en scene throughout.